There’s a lot to be concerned about in the world today — to put it mildly. Between working, the pandemic, personal lives, and the looming climate crisis, it's fair to be some level of stressed out. We're all just trying to make it to 2022 in one piece. But the irony of stress is that the more we try to keep calm and carry on, the more that stress can just compound on itself. And life doesn’t always allow us the space for healthy outlets for these emotions.
One way that an increasing number of psychologists are recommending we manage our stress levels is to engage in what has been coined the ‘worry time’ technique — a stress management method that involves scheduling a small chunk of your day to engage in deliberate worry.
Now, some might ask if actively worrying is a healthy pursuit — do we really want to let all the stress and anxiety we work hard to keep at bay, take over? Well, according to Nancy Sokarno, psychologist at Lysn, the practice can actually be quite beneficial to our overall mental wellbeing. As she attests, worrying is often seen as a negative — albeit, unavoidable — part of life, so if you’re going to do it anyway, you might as well do it in the safest way possible.
But how can we tap into the worry time method without tipping over into a frenzied free-for-all? Read on for Sokarno's advice on how to implement worry time.
What is ‘worry time’?
“Firstly, let’s distinguish between thinking about things and worrying,” she says. “Thinking about something is obviously a normal practice and can allow us to reflect and analyse situations more clearly. Worrying, on the other hand, usually starts out as being concerned about something, but leads to preoccupation and worry.”
“Worry time is a practice whereby you allow an allocated time in each day to worry,” she says. “The intention is that you use that time (and that time only) to worry, rather than spreading out those thoughts over the entire day.
The idea behind scheduling in worry time is that you focus for that short amount of time on what is worrying you, and then you forget about it for the rest of the day (or night)!”
What's the best way to approach ‘worry time’?
The technique is pretty straightforward. Simply make a concerted effort to set out some time in each day to worry. Consistency is key here! That means literally scheduling it in your calendar as a recurring appointment, just as you would any other appointment. “Anywhere from 15 minutes, up to half an hour is a good amount of time, but anything over an hour might be excessive to be ruminating over all your worries,” says Sokarno. It’s something that you should do without any distractions or when you can use that time without being interrupted by anyone.
As for the best time to get worrying? Sokarno recommends the tail-end of the day. “Ideally, you should also do it in the afternoon, but not too close to bedtime in case you can’t help but lay awake at night thinking about your concerns.”
If you’re naturally a person that tends to worry a lot, Sokarno also suggests writing down your worries as the day goes on, and then putting that bit of paper (and those thoughts) away until it’s your scheduled worry time.
“Writing the worrisome thoughts down can actually be therapeutic in and of itself, so this practice can also help you. When worry time comes about also write down any additional worries that might arise during that time. Note down the dates and look at your worries at the end of the week. Notice if there are any patterns or repeat concerns and consider ways that you might be able to ease what you’re worried about.”
Other techniques like breathwork and nature bathing can also be helpful to undertake during your worry time if you find yourself needing extra stimulation.
Of course, if you’re finding that your worries are overwhelming, preoccupying your thoughts and keeping you up at night, it might be time to talk to a professional or reach out to a mental health organisation such Anxiety UK.